Nilien patted at her hair uselessly. “Please, let them in. I don’t know when I’ll get to see them again.” The last was almost as much to the fox as it was to Nurse Abercom.
You do not have to explain to me. The fox turned around a couple times before settling back down, looking over its tail at the doorway. I would like to meet your friends. Friends can tell one quite a bit about someone, you know.
“They’re…” Nilien wasn’t sure what the fox could learn about her from her school friends, but they were already hurrying down the length of the infirmary towards her, so she put on a smile and said nothing.
“Nilien! Nilien, are you okay?” Corinne was at the front, of course, and she was gesturing in distress before she was even at Nilien’s bed. “Oh, we were so worried about you!”
“I’m… I’m all right.” Nilien made herself sit up straighter. “It’s nice of you to come.”
“Is that a fox?” Larisse leaned forward over the bed, reaching for the fox. The fox, in turn, covered more of its face with its tail.
Their friends, indeed, it muttered in Nilien’s mind.
“Hush,” she told the fox.
“What?” Larisse lowered her voice. “I mean, it’s a fox, right?” she whispered. “A fox-familiar?”
“A familiar?” Corinne frowned. “How did you get a familiar?”
They can’t hear me. You’re the only one that can hear me. But she can feel me fine if I bite her fingers.
“It’s a familiar,” Nilien told Larisse. “And it talks in my mind. I guess nobody else can hear it.”
“Where did it come from?” Corinne leaned forward over the bed, peering at the fox. The fox burrowed its face further under its tail.
“It bites,” Nilien warned them. Both of her friends leaned backwards, although the warning didn’t stop Larisse from sneaking a hand over to touch the fox’s tail.
“It’s probably because…” Larisse trailed off with a guilty look at Nilien.
“Ooh, probably,” Corinne agreed. “That’s not how it’s supposed to happen, though.” She glared at the fox as if it was its fault. The fox didn’t move.
“Because what?” Nilien demanded. Everyone was walking on eggshells around her, except the fox, who talked in circles, and she was beginning to get annoyed.
Both her friends turned to look at her in surprise. “Well,” Larisse sputtered, “because you got hurt—”
“Because someone tried to kill you,” Corinne interrupted. “We heard they poisoned you.”
“They?” Someone had poisoned her? That explained why her stomach felt like it had been wrung out.
“Nobody knows. But I suppose the fox can keep you safe.” Corinne shot a dubious look at the ball of red fur.
Nilien frowned. “Someone tried to kill me?”
Yes. The fox moved its tail enough to look at her with one eye. But you wanted to live. So here you are.
“And you got a familiar out of it.” Corinne looked at the fox critically. “And you survived. I’d say you came out on top of things.”
“I’m—” Nilien’s news sounded small now, in the face of finding out she’d almost been killed. “They’re sending me to the Imperial Academy at Reinmonte. I’m going to learn how to be a Rune.”
Corinne’s eyes landed on Nilien’s hand. “That really explains the fox, then. Reinmonte.”
“So lucky,” Larisse murmured. “I mean, that is, I mean…” She took a breath and smiled uncertainly. “You’re not lucky to have been poisoned. I’m sorry someone tried to kill you. But Reinmonte! We’ll miss you, but lucky you!” She wrapped her arms around Nilien in an engulfing hug. “Write and tell us all about it!”
Today's poll is a special cryptic one! Does Nilien lock the door?
— MARKED (@MarkedSerial) January 6, 2017